'They are sick of prison': Cork Prison project helping to build a new future

Equipment for Scoil Aiséirí Chríost in Farranree is just one example of the many projects undertaken by prisoners as they take part in education and develop their skills in Cork Prison. John Bohane reports.
'They are sick of prison': Cork Prison project helping to build a new future

Ger Manley, Governor, Cork Prison; Edel Cunningham, head teacher Cork ETB Education Unit Cork Prison; and Padraig Lynch, Cork ETB woodwork teacher, Education Unit, Cork Prison, presenting sloping boards, made by prisoners, to Deirdre Scully, deputy principal, and Rachel Uí Fhlannabhrs, principal, Scoil Aiséirí Chríost Farranree.

"MOST of them hit an age and they just want to do something. They want to better themselves. They are sick of prison,” said Padraig Lynch, who works with the education unit at Cork Prison.

Padraig, who is employed by the Cork Education and Training Board (CETB), recently worked with five students in Cork Prison to make sloping boards for students in Scoil Aiséirí Chríost girls’ primary school in Farranree. The Cork city primary school had reached out to the woodwork teacher to see if they could make the boards, which would enable the students to work and write at the optimum angle.

Padraig subsequently picked a core group of students, and they made several prototypes before settling on the finished product. They made a total of 16 boards for the school.

The Waterfall native has been teaching in Cork Prison for 13 years.

“We have a fully functioning school within Cork Prison. We teach everything from literacy to Irish, English, maths, arts, home economics, and numeracy. They are offered a wide range of subjects. We have 22 teachers. It is a great initiative. Our students come into us, and they must leave in a better place,” he said.

The students attend classes for five hours each day from Monday to Friday, said Mr Lynch.

“The first thing I say to my students is can you read a tape and you would be surprised at the number who can’t. That is your starting point. You might also have students in the class who are strong. You must juggle that to suit all parties.

“The practical subjects initially get them out as it is very disarming. Once they are disarmed, they can be referred on to literacy and numeracy skills.

“The students are very keen to learn and to better themselves. They have the option of going to school or else staying back in their cells. Another option is doing jobs in the prison.

“It is great for them to continue to learn. They are getting an education with the long-term goal of going into employment on the outside. We have classes five days a week. Three hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon; 9.15am to 12.15pm and 2.15pm to 4.15pm.

“We have morning and evening slots. We must work around their lunch breaks and the Irish Prison Service (IPS),” he added.

Some of the prisoners will not have had previous experience of education.

“Throughout a lot of their primary school experiences, they would have been told to get out, move on, or stay at the back of the class,” said Mr Lynch.

“They might have faced barriers up until now. I always say to them that they are in here, it is what it is and just leave in a better place. I always stress to them that they must better themselves so ‘your children can see you bettering yourself’. You are then a role model, and you are breaking the cycle of father, son, and grandfather. Most of them want to do it and buy into it,” he said.

Cork Prison has links with several second-level and third-level institutions in Cork.

“Education can open doors for prisoners,” Padraig says. 

“It gives them confidence. We have links with the further education colleges. We also have links with MTU, OU, and UCC.

“Anyone can start a module with us and finish it outside or else start it outside and finish it inside. It is across the board. We also do the Leaving Certificate and OU. We have projects going on all the time.”


He admitted to some apprehension before he started his teaching role in Cork Prison, but said he loves his job and making a difference.

“When I started, I didn’t know where Cork Prison was. I was a bit apprehensive going into it. I love my job. I enjoy making a difference. You wouldn’t be in this role if you didn’t feel you were making a difference. It is just bringing enthusiasm into the classroom every day and just making them excited going into school. This was not an option for a lot of them as they missed a lot of school growing up.

“Everyone benefits. It is win-win for everyone. I don’t know what they are in for, and I don’t want to know. It is what it is. Everybody is the same to me. I treat people fairly and they in turn treat me fairly. That relationship goes on then.”

Mr Lynch said the students were very enthusiastic to make sloping boards for Scoil Aiséirí Chríost as they saw the benefits of giving back to the community.

“We are constantly making player of the month awards for local sports clubs. This was a very interesting project. I picked a strong team who all brought different skills to the table. They were so enthusiastic. They were delighted to give back to the community.

“One of the students is from Farranree and he knew the school very well. He was delighted to help. We went into the print shop in Cork Prison, and they printed off badges that we were able to put on the boards as well. It was a real team effort.

“The boards will help their students work away at an angle. They can engage more. It took about three weeks to finish the boards from start to finish.

“The students can take a great sense of pride having made these boards. It is a great sense of achievement. It encourages them. I always say to them that it is not just about them, it is about someone else as well. There is a huge feelgood factor as well.”

Padraig says he typically sees a big increase in the interest levels of his students as the academic year progresses. In recent weeks, students have been making Christmas projects for their family members.

“They are finishing off projects for their children for Christmas and presents for their wives. They would be making rocking chairs, jewellery boxes, kiddies chairs, and tables. I would notice a difference in them as the year goes by. They become much more engaged. Their interest is huge. They are now mentoring other students, which is great to see.”

Their proud teacher said due to his students’ expertise and hard work, he has also ensured they have been availing of apprenticeship programmes after they complete their time in Cork Prison.

“I have been setting a few of them up with Solas and apprenticeship programmes.

“I would be recommending them for their skills and talents. It is important to break the cycle and be part of a change.”

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